Thursday, February 23, 2012

Orders of Abstraction

It feels like I am living my life one level removed from reality right now. It's not true, just a feeling. The stuff I am dealing with right now-- plane tickets and tax season and scheduling-- are completely real. Most people spend much of their lives at this level... But it feels artificial and unimportant.

It has been two years, give or take a month, since anyone tried to kill me. And that wasn't much of an effort, really, nor was it personal. But it felt real, infinitely more real than tax season at a small business.

In the 'ohno' moment, everything is what it is. Exactly what it is, no more and no less and no other. You see and you act, and every interpretation or memory or 'woulda coulda shoulda' thought is a distraction that can get you killed.

You see. You act.

Nothing more. If you do it right, you walk away. If you don't, you just become a piece of someone else's story.

When you think about it afterwards or debrief it, no matter how practiced you are in the AAR, you are removed from the event by a whole order of magnitude. It is a thing of memory now, something that happened. No longer a thing of fear and immediacy.

When you try to extrapolate the lessons (which is the sacred duty of all operators) you are yet another order of magnitude removed. Ten times as abstract. Trying to put or derive intellectual lessons from an event of meat and adrenaline.

Teaching is yet another order of magnitude removed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Post: Ty Johnston

For the record, the only time I've ever done a guest blog post was when Bill Giovannucci wrote something absolutely brilliant that was too long to go in the comments section.

But some writer I don't know from Adam is doing a blog tour. He wrote a nice letter and I thought, "Hey, if the post is half as good as the letter, the kid's a damn good writer." also, the request came at the perfect time, since I was so deep in editing three manuscripts and finishing a fourth that the blog was languishing.

So, without further ado, welcome Ty Johnston:

When I was twelve, I stood between my mother and a man who was trying to kill her. I remember no emotions at the time other than a sense that “this has to end.” For five years my mother had lived with violence, beatings and worse that came at least once a month, almost on schedule. More than once she had to go to the hospital, twice for extended stays because she had cracked discs in her neck.

It might seem to some I exaggerate by stating this man, my mother’s second husband, was attempting to “kill” her. Perhaps so, but it did not feel that way to my twelve-year-old self at the time. I merely knew he had threatened to kill her on more than one occasion and had seemingly attempted to numerous times.

He never laid a hand on me during his violent episodes. There had been times when we had rough-housed out in the yard, and a couple of times he had left me with bruises and the wind knocked from my chest, but that had been play, though today it might be considered crossing the line. It didn’t seem so back then.

Though he was not my father, this was a man who I respected, as difficult as that might sound. He was a Vietnam veteran, earning my regard for his service and a bit of youthful awe at the tales of war he and his buddies would pass along. He was also educated and intellectual, and built by hand rows upon rows of shelves in our basement before covering those shelves with thousands of books he had acquired over the years. If not for this man, my interests in literature might never have blossomed.

Yet he was also the man who regularly attacked my mother, leaving her beaten and in tears.

Why she tolerated this for so long, I do not know, even to this day. She and I have talked about it over the years, and she does not have a good answer, not one she herself can come to grips with.

As I mentioned, I felt no emotion at the time of standing between this man and my mother. I do remember beforehand a general feeling that I knew this was coming, my facing down against this man. I was waiting, waiting for myself to grow older and bigger and stronger. I realized he would probably mop the floor with me, perhaps harming me worse than he had my mother all those years simply because I was standing up to him.

But none of that was in my mind the night I was in bed and heard the first of the screams. It was a familiar pattern, one I knew well, and I realized I would be awake all night, helpless to do anything but listen to the cursing and crying. That night was different, however. I can not say what was different, but I remember that “this has to end.”

I jumped up out of bed, wearing only pajamas, and rushed through the house and down the stairs to the basement where those lines of books encompassed the room. He had shoved my mother over the couch. She was climbing to her feet and he was approaching as I rushed between them and stood there and stared at him. I did not even raise my arms.

He did not look at me, but tried to rush past, to reach my mother. Without thinking, I shoved out, sending him sprawling across the couch. At that point my mother ran up the stairs. He jumped to his feet and lurched after her. I followed as fast as I could.

In the kitchen upstairs, my mother was at the phone, attempting to call the police. Somehow I managed to place myself between her and my step-father once more. I was in a doorway, and there was no room for him to get by me. The only way he could get to her would be to physically remove me.

I remember expecting to be slaughtered at that moment. But it never came. I continued to stare in silence into his face, and then I realized he would not look at me. His eyes were down, and he only stood there several feet away. His fists were at his side, and soon opened, hanging limp.

To this day, more than thirty years later, I’m still not sure what happened that night. Armchair psychologists and the like might say he was too much of a coward to face someone who was willing to confront him directly, and perhaps that is true. I don’t know. I do know that for only being twelve, I was pretty big for a boy at 180 pounds and nearly six-feet tall. However, my step-father was no small man, standing at about six feet himself and weighing slightly more than two hundred pounds. Plus, he was an adult, with at least some military training, whereas I was a kid who hadn’t even played football yet. Maybe harming a kid was a line he would not cross.

That memory is the most vivid one I retain of the few instances of violence that have intruded upon my life. Obviously I had witnessed many sessions of my mother being beaten, but after all these years they all seem to tumble together in my mind.

Of the other times violence has entered my life, there have been few, but I remember them with a little less recall. There was then time when I was ten and my grandfather, my mother’s father, pistol whipped my step-father, for reasons one can guess. There was the time I went camping with friends at 16 and ended up staring down the barrel of a revolver, to this day my mind’s eye telling me that was the biggest firearm I have ever seen in my life, even though cooler heads eventually prevailed that night and no one was hurt. There were a few fist fights in high school. There was the time I went hiking with my dad, I think I was 18, and someone fired several shots over our heads, for what reason I do not know, perhaps just to get their kicks scaring some yokels.

That is the extent that violence has directly affected my life, at least that I can remember.

Odd, then, at least to me, that fictional violence has become such a part of my everyday life. I’m fortunate in that I get to write fiction for a living, and my preferred genres are the fantasy and horror fields. Why is this? Why do I utilize so much violence in my work?

I can’t give a good answer. I could go on about the freedom I find in exploring the human condition when I write fantasy, or I could talk about the sheer fun I have at writing horror, because being scared can be fun, at least when the frights aren’t real.

I could also chat about other writers, how Hemingway used violence to subtly explore the minds of his protagonists, or how Tolstoy despised violence but still found a use for it to guide his characters in their search for God. I could turn to pulp writers and focus on Robert E. Howard’s use of violence as a way to highlight the eternal struggle between civilization and barbarism, or Ed McBain’s dichotomy of violence that on one side was often little more than a day-at-the-office for the police officers he wrote about, but could become quite personal and breathtaking in the blink of an eye.

I could go on and on about all of that, but none of it would be real, none of it would truly focus upon violence.

Before I was seven, before my mother remarried, the world I lived within found violence to be exciting. Back then I got my violence from comic books and television, and that stuff was tame by any comparison of what we have today. Spider-man pounced on crooks to set the world right again, and Roy Rogers blasted a six-gun out of a black-hats hand to save the day and win the girl.

Again, though, none of that is violence, real violence.

None of those memories answer the question of why I write using violence so often.

Or do they?

When I really sit and think about it, when I force my mind to go back, it occurs to me that I am not writing about violence, no matter how many villains my protagonists slay nor how many innocents fall prey to my monsters. What I am writing about is adventure, about a seven-year-old boy’s version of violence.

I have seen real violence, if only a little as compared to others, and I do not write about that. It is too painful to write about, but I can write about fake violence, which isn’t even violence in the first place. I can write the thrilling dreams of a little boy who has yet to taste real violence, because that is who I once was, and perhaps who I want to be again.

High Percentage Shots and Experiments

The nature of life and modern ethics is that there is some stuff we can't, under normal circumstances, know. And it would be wrong to find out. That sometimes leaves us passing along questionable information-- questionable as to source and accuracy of transmission.

One example- a strike to the temple. I have read and heard from uncounted instructors how devastating a strike to the temple can be. Some talk about the skull being thin there, some about the geometry of a flat place on a generally curved skull, some about the trigeminal nerve...

But you know what? I've been hit there. A fair amount. And hit people there. And seen people hit there. And not once did it have any effect whatsoever. Maybe once, but that was with a tool. And sometimes the little blood vessel under the skin bursts and you get a nice, dark, bulging hematoma...

My sources say it is a high-percentage target. My personal experience has it as a near zero.

I only know one striking target that hasn't failed in my experience; and asking around, with the usual caveats (not missing, proper hitting) no one else has seen a failure either, despite size, strength, drugs or altered states of consciousness. One technique... and it's not something you can really play with because relatively severe injuries are common. (And, no, I'm not going to describe it here. Most likely you already know it, anyway.)

I have another small batch that I consider high percentage. But there's stuff I don't know. Got to play with an excellent BJJ instructor over the weekend who commented that a rabbit punch in a certain position wouldn't have an effect. Not that either of us were eager to risk a brainstem/cervical shot to be sure...

Hmmm. There's a target band that I really like. Essentially a reset button for the human brain. It has been incredibly reliable for me. It's also considered deadly force in most jurisdictions. But the mechanism of injury may not be what I think it is. If it is percussion to the brainstem, then the position we were discussing wouldn't matter. If it relies on creating even a minor and temporary separation of the upper cervical vertebra or C1 and the skull, then simply splinting the head against the opponent's shoulder would provide more than enough protection, at least at the only reachable angle.

And the only way to be sure would be to get a bunch of stup... I mean young, healthy martial artists and try it out. Full intention of finding the point (angle, force, position, freedom of action vs. splinting) that transmits the maximum shock to the brainstem.

It's a good core technique. I've given (and received) extremely severe concussions from relatively light force at the right angle. But waiting for the happenstance of combat (especially without access to an institutional memory in the form of thousands of force reports) gets small amounts of random data, often not clearly remembered.

Maybe we need a secret society of lab rats willing to put their brains on the line.

For science.
Guest blog post tomorrow. Some author is doing a blog tour.

Port Townsend this weekend, two day seminar + Conflict Communications.

All of March in California, with seminars in Granada Hills, Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Diego.

"Talking Them Through: Crisis Communication with the Emotionally Disturbed and Mentally Ill" is up on SmashWords and Kindle

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Student Profiles

It's not always possible, but when your focus is on teaching students, as opposed to teaching material, it's kind of imperative to know who the students are.

Rookie officers, for instance, need a solid base. Sometimes that even involves detailed explanation of the problem, e.g. the different kind of force incidents, force policy and basic priority setting and effective motion. Experienced officers, on the other hand, may need a refresher on policy and most could use some practice at articulation, but the physical part has to center around taking what they are going to do (you will not, in eight hours, entirely replace something that has worked well for twelve years of a career) and making it better.

People with a duty to act have entirely different needs than people who have a preclusion requirement in their self defense law. Someone who has trained for a decade in a hard contact style will have different holes and advantages than someone who has only trained in air. Men are rarely exposed to the types of violence women are. Someone who expects to be traveling on the Mexican side of the border or working in Pakistan or taking pictures in Somalia has very, very different needs than someone doing the same job in St. Paul.

Some general categories of information for developing a student profile:

Safety Information:
  • Ranging ability (People who practice mixed-weapon sparring, for instance have skills at ranging that people who work at one range won't be able to see)
  • Know the rules for stopping action (tapping, safety words)
  • Too arrogant to surrender?
  • Breakfall abilities
  • Previous injuries
  • Previous traumatic experiences
  • Relevant psychological issues
  • Relevant medical/medication issues
Physical Ability:
Largely strength, skill, endurance and pain tolerance. Mostly how physical they want; how physical they can handle; and how physical they need. Those are three separate things.

  • Training experience-- because that will drive expectations, blindspots and habits. A lot of SD training with experienced martial artists is showing the disconnects between what they have learned about opponents and what they need to learn about criminals.
  • Life experience-- This is huge. Someone who has been victimized in the past will have different needs and triggers than someone who has never experienced serious trauma and very different reactions than someone who deals with violence professionally. One of the instructor's roles is to turn all experience into an advantage. Because it is, but not always in the same way.
  • There is a third aspect that can come from either training or experience. Call it 'heart' or whatever. But sometimes, especially in long-term training you have to (forgive the melodrama) forge spirit. Toughen them up and get them used to decisiveness. And there are other groups where this problem (which can be difficult and is usually time-consuming) is handed to you.
Possibly the most important: Understand why the student is there. And this can be huge, because frequently what the student wants, what the student thinks he or she wants and what they need are three very different things.
  • To be safer or to feel safer?
  • To polish or improve a skill?
  • Inspiration (a lot of experienced people start looking for new things when they hit a plateau. It's a good tactic.)
  • To learn a skill? Or understand where a skill they already have fits? Or find the pressure point where skills break down?
  • To stress themselves?
  • To test themselves?
  • Because all of their friends are doing it?
And so on. There are a lot of potential reasons and many of them are subconscious. The people who show up to SD classes but don't want to sweat usually want to feel safer, not be safer. And the ones who squirm and go into denial when they get some hard truths want an amulet, a magic cross to keep the vampires away. Some try to find arguments... they are the ones who wanted a previous world-view confirmed, not get new knowledge.

The goal is to get the maximum relevant information safely into the student.


Monday, February 13, 2012

What I Want

I want a grumpy waitress who is a little overweight with a bad dye job. She calls strangers "Hon" or "Sweetpea" when they sit down to order breakfast. She probably needs, and richly deserves, a foot rub when she gets home. I'm a little tired of trim men in dress shirts hovering around like you might not know how to eat by yourself and pretty young girls clearly just going through the motions hoping to be 'discovered' and start their real life.

I want to look at a menu and see things that a working man would eat for breakfast. Sausage and gravy instead of cream brie or 'market berries.' A menu designed for fuel where the average job involves burning calories instead of the menu for a place where the average job is looking as young and thin as possible.

Young women have been checking me out. It made no sense. I'm dressed a little different than the average, but between the tourists, the different classes and the different ideas of style there really isn't a standard here. You can't (correction, I can't in only two days) reliably pick out the locals by dress. So why the checkout? I'm not pretty. Not distinctive. And the attention is coming from a very definite demographic. (If everyone was checking me out, I'd take a hard look at my dress and mannerisms and local standards and adjust.)

Then it hit me. Age, demeanor, gender... I'm edging into the 'potential sugar-daddy demographic.' The other, other, other career path for a young lady down here.

Everyplace is different, and this place is beautiful. The ocean is warm enough to swim in, by Oregon standards. A little rain, a lot of sun. One spectacular sunset. And the people I've met have been wonderful. Even the traffic (granted I'm here on a weekend and in a nice area) looks smooth, uncluttered and even polite.

But I think I'm missing the Pacific NorthWest just a little bit.
And I hope all the grumpy waitresses of the world have someone at home to give them a foot massage.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Five Days

Annaka asked a question: if you wanted to take a group of women, strictly from the self-defense perspective, from zero to where you wanted them to be, how long would it take?

Instinctive answer was five days. Want to try to be a little more specific here.

Day One: The Theoretical Day
-Intros, goals, safety briefing, teaching philosophy, what I don't know
-Fear versus danger; fear management versus danger management
- Violence Motivations, Maslow model and Triune Brain from ConCom
- Violence Dynamics including Social, Asocial, Asocial Masquerading as Social, Deviant Social and cyclical violence
- Avoidance and evasion
- Context: Ethics and Law; breaking the freeze; aftermath
- SD Law
- Gender Differences in Violence
- Logic of Violence Method
- Individual Victim Profiles
- Violence for communication versus violence for effect
- Three natural strategies
- Mindsets

Day 2: Physical Day
- Not fighting. Close range assassinations.
- 'A' Targets. Easy, Reliable, Incapacitating
- 'B' Targets. Require strength and or practice. Incapacitating.
- 'C' Targets. Require skill and/or luck. Incapacitating.
- Power generation
- Other options: Movement and unbalancing
- Principles: balance; exploiting momentum; exploiting gravity; structure
- Immediate Action
- Fight to the Goal
- Counter-assault

Day 2 Evening: Field Exercise 1: Reading Terrain
- Cruise local area for ambush zones; E&E protocols and principles; Tags; Target-rich environments.

Day 3: Physical Day
- Safety Briefing
- Counter-assault Practice
- Takeouts
- One Step. Special emphasis on what it is and what we are NOT doing, e.g. practicing fighting.
- Targets and Targeting Drills
- Close range strikes
- Close range Kicks
- Take downs
- Leverage points
- Blindfolded work
- Counter assault practice

Day 4: Physical Day
- Safety Briefing
- Counter Assault Practice
- Moving a body
- Wall work
- Environmental fighting
- Weapons and Improvised weapons
- Ground movement
- Striking from the Ground
- Application and limitations of pain; tactical use of pain
- Weapon access under assault
- Mass brawl
- Counter assault practice
- Messy drill
- Individual fears and concerns brief and brainstorm.

Day 4 Evening: Field Exercise 2: Reading People
- Urban anthropology and victim/threat assessment practice

Day 5: Scenario Day
- 2 targeted scenarios for each participant. Each scenario debriefed to a peer jury regarding both tactics and legal justification.
- Articulation wars
- Tactical considerations to include the presence of children and babies

I think that would cover things. It's a lot of information, but not overwhelming if it is taught correctly. Everything interconnects and almost everything can be connected to common experiences, so it becomes a way to think and a way to move instead of stuff to remember. Might also add a daily debriefing that would include learning how to conduct an after-action debrief.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Love and Infatuation

The difference between love and infatuation can be distinguished (in this model, for my purposes, in this post) as how accurately you see.

If she (or he, or it... we'll get to that) is the prettiest and the funniest and the smartest; if everything she (or he or it) does, no matter how stupid, is actually very clever on a deeper level... that's infatuation.

When you can see the flaws and still think, "This is right" it's probably love.

It applies to martial arts, too. People fall in love with an art or an instructor and sometimes the critical faculties disappear. Back in the '70's (that's 1970s to you whippersnappers) I read an article in a martial arts magazine trying to explain why the new contact kickboxing circuit was a bad idea and completely unnecessary. The author explained that a good point-sparrer because of his years of training in control and precision, could 'toy' with a street thug.

Control and precision at missing, basically.

You'll get it from almost every rookie in almost every system. And you'll hear it from the groupies and fanboys. And you'll hear it from the people who have found something damn close to a religion. Sometimes it's honest, though dumb or misguided. The guy who said that 'because MMA is the closest thing to real fighting, anything against the rules must be against the rules because it doesn't work' probably really believed it. He had accepted his religion as the highest possible standard of 'proof of effectiveness.' Therefore anything not within his religion must not rise to even a low level of effectiveness.

Same/same with RBSD instructors who insist that knowing self-defense law will somehow confuse and freeze their students. For what ever reason they didn't learn it coming up and, when you are infatuated, every blemish is a beauty mark.

Love is different. I love K, but she is not and can never be all things. If I have to go through a door I want Mike. For talking about stuff like this, it used to be Sean and Mac, but that list is growing. If I need a doctor, K can't step into that role. But I will happily spend the rest of my life with her. Somehow, in that process, I won't depend on her to be everything.

With combatives or martial arts, it's the same. Your art isn't complete. Get over it. Unless it covers everything from talking down emotional people up to small unit tactics and firearms, (and adjusts for you whether you are in the best shape of your life or old and injured) it is not complete. That's okay. You aren't complete either. Part of being human.

But some of them are damn good, and some of the ones you find damn good might not be a good fit for me and vice-versa. I loved judo and classical jujutsu. They made me better (and that's one of the things with my personal version of love-- it makes me want to continuously improve, to become worthy). But they had holes. Judo had few fast finishes; it concentrated on a level of chess-match that I rarely had time for and it trained against itself instead of the attacks I routinely got. JJ was beautiful for ambush survival, integrating a fighter, and paid proper respect to weapons... but it had almost nothing for the lower end of the force continuum.

But both of them were sweaty, physical and hands-on, something else I tend to like in love. And infatuation, actually. Hmmmm. Strike that whole sentence. I just like sweaty action.

Is infatuation bad? I'm not sure. Because I've experienced love and found it to be deeper and stronger, I tend to focus on the delusional aspects of infatuation and worry about the almost inevitable crash. But whether it is a first crush (except for the angsty stuff, let's amend that to the first mutual crush) or a rocking new ultimate unbeatable martial art, you don't often see people happier than infatuated kids. So maybe it's not so bad.

But I still encourage all of you, if you haven't already, to find something that fits. Something that you will be happy with and love, eyes wide open to what it truly is and what it isn't, for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Manipulating a Committee

Some day I am going to go through the draft file on this blog and finish some stuff. Started to write about friends and how they keep me on an even keel; how your friends tell you who you really are. Then I got all maudlin.

Noticed something today and I'm not sure what to think about it. Most of the times I've used it accidentally, but it could be a tactic...

People are essentially lazy. That's not a bad thing, it's true for almost all animals. If they aren't hungry or horny they conserve energy.

People also have this incredible and sometimes pathological fear of being left out. A kid will go to a movie he knows is crappy if all of his friends are going.

The first time I noticed was with "Meditations on Violence." The publisher was hesitant, since they hadn't published anything quite like it. They were going on four months without a solid answer about whether they wanted to publish it. Four months is a long time in my environment, especially since I had just moved into investigations. The learning curve was pretty steep. Going over the draft I thought of a ton of stuff I wanted to add or expand.

So I sent a polite note saying I was withdrawing the manuscript from consideration since I didn't feel it was current. Got a phone call and an offer immediately.

Working in a dedicated team is good. Trying to get work done in a committee sucks. My usual reaction was to just finish the project, sign everyone's name to it and present it. But I noticed something. If you announce that it is finished and you are ready to present it, everyone immediately jumps into action to get a hand in on what should already be a finished work. Suddenly all the people who couldn't be bothered to do their assigned tasks are trying to do them and redo and undo other people's assignments.

Curious. Sometimes it bugs, as now when I have to redo an entire project because a resource was withheld until I finished without said resource.

But I think it is something I could definitely use to force action from a generally inert thing like a committee.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Goals in Teaching

I don't want to teach forever. Not talking about my career goals, I'm talking about the students. I don't want a student-teacher relationship.

I've never been comfortable in any relationship with a great disparity of power. Some of that is how you look at it. A bad boss has way more power than you. A good boss in the exact same situation has way more responsibility, duties and resources. Same thing, but that simple reframe makes a huge difference.

In an LEO agency, I would occasionally see supervisors and instructors withholding information. When cornered, it was clear that they were teaching or supervising underlings. Juniors. They were focussed on preserving the power dynamic.

I never saw it that way. As an instructor, I was teaching colleagues. I was teaching people who, one day, if I really screwed up, would be my back-up. If I knew more about a thing, I taught or shared. If I knew less, I learned.

In all that time, and even now, I never really had or wanted students. Just colleagues to bring up to speed.

I'll be in that teacher role. I accept that. But the goal is to get out of that role as quickly as possible. To transmit skills and confidence so that the students feel qualified to get in there and play. To make sure they understand that their own understanding of themselves and their world is at least as valuable as anything that can be taught. To bring all levels of observation skills as far as I can. Pass on what I know of how to experiment and test. To make each and every one a teacher, so that they can teach themselves. And me.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The First 3 to 5

This will be a rehash of some things I've said before. Hmmmmm. Maybe I'll just make a post with a list of all the things I say too much and then quit writing? Naaaaah. New questions come up all the time.

Making certain people proficient at violence is simple. Not easy, but simple. The physical skills are not complicated nor difficult. Good basic skills, realistic expectations and then you put them in the situation, surrounded by veterans or at minimum backed up by veterans and most people will develop proficiency. Simple. Not easy and certainly not safe, but simple.

Works for most people, with at least one caveat-- the person has to want to be proficient. Someone who actively seeks to undermine being tested (not showing up, looking for a desk job, tying shoes before running to a back-up call...) won't get there. And there are a few people who never quite get there, and that can work a couple of ways-- someone who just can't hurt someone else will never become proficient at violence. And some one who can't control their anger may do things and survive things, but they will never meet my definition of proficient.

The core question for civilians is that most won't have the multiple encounters it takes to access skill. According to Ken Murray in "Training at the Speed of Life" the Air Force set the requirements for Ace at five kills because the first 3-5 were luck. Until some magical threshold, somewhere in the 3-5 range (I estimated 20-50 for unarmed encounters, but maybe I was slow) no one remembered, much less used, their training under the stress of combat. You survived the first handful on luck and instinct...and if you could do that five times, you probably had good instincts.

When you hit the threshold, you had a fighter with good instincts who could access all of his training, and that defines formidable.

For civilian self-defense, this is the big problem. How to get someone who doesn't necessarily have good instincts through the first encounter. These are the victim profiles, the people that need a chance. They are also the group with the most stacked against them.

The weird part, and what I really want to write about, is that sometimes we know what doesn't work. Complicated patterns, anything that requires calculation or prediction isn't likely to be accessible when the neocortex steps aside and the hindbrain takes over. Maybe after the threshold number, but not in the first one. Repetitive drilling of unnatural motions puts you in conflict with your own body and mind when you need things to be together most. If those repetitive, complicated, unnatural motions were practiced against attacks that don't happen, even worse. And telling fairy tales of what attacks are like or what your techniques can do... maybe it works. The Ghost Shirt society did pretty well in their first battle, believing bullets would bounce. But I still don't think lying to students is ever good.

We know (and by 'we' I mean other people) things don't work...and we still do it that way. We teach that a ridiculously obscure formula will give us the power to safely and without side effects put large men to sleep. Or we drill, drill, drill against attacks that don't don't don't happen. Because as teachers we have so much ego tied up in our years of training that we would rather provide a bad answer than admit that we have none.

That's wrong. It is managing fear, making us feel better, while doing absolutely nothing for danger. It makes no one safer.

Maybe. There's a lot of bullshit and misunderstanding, but almost every technique you drill hard at will have a use in real life. It may not be the block you were taught it was, but most of the motions are pretty efficient and they will stand you in good stead. Provided you survive to your threshold number of encounters so that you can access them.

There's also some data that what works at the instinct level, before the threshold, may not be the same skills or mindset that works after. Sanford Strong's research indicated that the most important survival element for victims of violent crime was not size or skill, but the ability to turn fear into a righteous rage. But rage almost always hurts a skilled fighter (though that, again, may be my opinion and based on an environment where we were expected to show complete self-control).

In Maslow's hierarchy, these would be the people tapping into their lowest level of survival brain and they would fight completely without skill, much like a drowning victim. No skill, but very dangerous. Past the threshold fighting is a marriage of higher brain function with animal intensity.

Basic point is that once we know what doesn't work we have a responsibility not to cling to it. If we do so, we do so for our own egos, not to make anyone safer. We need to be honest with our students and we need to look for new ways, or old ways that worked better. Other ways.

There is some stuff that helps, and again, almost every style and system has it. Operant conditioning or contact response or flinch training or whatever you want to call it will maybe get you through the first half second. That's important.

Good scenario training can help you adapt to the natural environment of conflict. It can also push a student to use judgment, bringing higher and lower brain functions together under stress.

Good information never hurts...

Saturday, February 04, 2012


D's home. Our home, anyway, but on this continent it is his home, too. He looks good. He finished Basic and AIT as the oldest man in his unit. He's the honor grad, as well. And a citizen (YAY!). He's a good man to have in my country. D was my translator in Kurdistan.

Picked him up at the airport in his dress blues, which are almost as ugly as our old dress greens were. Steak and long talk. Kept him up too late, but that's what happens when friends get talking.

The daughter made him a poundcake, something new.

So yesterday, a little cruising through town and then a long sit on the deck, crystal blue skies and a piercing wind. Narghila with watermelon tobacco, and talk. What he saw in BCT and AIT that he liked and didn't (my experience is out of date, but I too remember a qualitative difference between the people who joined for combat arms MOSs and those who sought support roles). The value of a good senior NCO.

We talked about old friends, about how the mountains of Northern Iraq can seem so remote and untouched though they have been inhabited since before humans were Homo sapiens. And, as old friends do, we solved all of the worlds political problems. No, not really. We actually wound up listing all the ones that no one seems to be anticipating.

And he talked of his plans. Old school working man ambition. Military. Get his masters while in, saving his GI Bill for his doctorate when he gets out. Settling in a place where a doctorate in petroleum chemistry married to a PhD in geology who are fluent in at least three languages each will have opportunities.

No doubt whatsoever his life is hard now. Being separated from family. New culture. Adapting to military customs. Full loads of work and study. But D is focused on a future and following a plan.

And he is a pleasure to hang out with.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Nothing Special

This ties back heavily to the last two posts.
We all have things we like about ourselves. Special traits and abilities. Things that set us apart. Things that make us proud.

Probably the thing I like most about myself is that I rarely need approval. Peer groups and expectations have little power over me. Criticism is criticism and I milk it for information, but don't think it is about me. I like being the watcher in the corner of the room. I'm happy to walk the perimeter while the big wheels make their big deals and network.

It is almost a superpower. It allows me to blend in and make friends in many cultures. Things get done because it doesn't matter to me who gets the credit. We do the job, lieutenant gets the praise, Captain does the press release... everyone is happy.

It is almost the direct opposite of the personalities that Charles pointed out, the ones who can't distinguish between good and bad attention. Almost the direct opposite and almost exactly the same. Because in a deep level, I don't distinguish either. Neither is very powerful, but praise makes me almost as uncomfortable as criticism.

Talked a few weeks ago with a friend who shares some of these traits. What do we have in common? A childhood where any attention could be actively dangerous. We both learned very early that it was better to be invisible than to be good. With time and work and skill, we turned that into something to be proud of. Handled a little differently we may both have been one short step away from a groomed victim profile.

Same with the ones who don't distinguish between positive and negative attention. A very particular type of ass in normal life, but with time and work and skill thriving on both kinds may be what it takes to be a celebrity.

Nothing special. The personality trait I am most proud of may have been nothing more than a random result of early conditioning. This ability that makes me so special (in my own mind) might be just luck. I deserve credit no more than a turtle plodding through a maze. Some take the right turn, some don't. Some are in mazes with different rewards than others. All the ones who don't die adjust. Just turtles, just living.

Then the human tacks on an elaborate story of struggle and triumph, heartbreak and glory. An elaborate, fragile, wholly imaginary story.

I think this is why there was so much backlash against the Behaviorists long ago. It explained everything, was open to rigorous experimentation and study... but left no room for the story. No place to feel special.

It is a pretty deep abyss to look into: The possibility that everything you have done and been is...
What? Luck? Nothing at all? Random? Protoplasm responding to pain and pleasure?

This is what I think about when I snap awake at three AM, like I do most nights.

Bonus points: Did you notice all the weasel words in this? The 'may' and 'mights' and 'possiblies.' Not sure I like looking into this abyss much either.